Leaving the resilient world behind: Community-Led Development and Human-Centered Design

About 40 decades ago Crawford Stanley Holling called out the world’s ignorance of the power of change in urban systems. He found it unbelievable (and utterly illogical) that people would assume systems can go back to the way they were (bounce back) after a shock. Urban systems are too complex, dynamic and networked to regain a former equilibrium. Besides, the pre-shock state may not always be desirable, thus the need for positive adaptability - renewal, reconfiguration of structures to better performance.

The million dollar question however is: how can this newnormal be achieved, especially following the slow onset COVID19 crisis? What in fact is this new normal that global development debates lobby for?

In a session with PartosJan Fransen and Beatrice Hati, through their works at the CFIA - LDE Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa challenged development actors i.e. governments (national, sub/supra-national), (I)NGOs, private sector, civil society, knowledge institutions to explore new ways of working through innovationlearningselforganization, and networks.  A session in which the role of (I)NGO’s was highlighted and where strong conclusions were made: the resilient attitude of (I)NGO’s, which was certainly visible during covid-19, is not moving us forward to a better future. Time to connect to local initiatives that might have a different approach.
Read the full recap below.

How can we as professionals empower our practice and incorporate community-led development and human-centered design in our day-to-day practices?

Jan Fransen and Beatrice Hati of The Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA) presented their insights about the projects they work on and how to connect these to other organisations. After the presentations, we discussed possible new ways of working, the relationship of (I)NGO’s to local initiatives and how resilient (I)NGOs can be in relation to disasters or other urgent changing circumstances, like Covid-19.

The session started with a presentation by Jan Fransen, who is a researcher at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) and part of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Jan started by emphasizing how people live in informal settlements and that these people have a lot of agency and resilience; a lot happens in these communities but is often low quality, invisible, unconnected. External support often fails, because the support structures are not that well adapted to these conditions. CFIA uses frugal innovations as a means to enhance resilience and capacity in informal communities. It does that by using frugal innovations as a mindset (wherein challenges are framed as opportunities), as a process (that works because it is indigenous, affordable and adaptive) and as an outcome, wherein the yield is simple and robust. With the usage of several examples that CFIA uses to work together with informal communities, Jan concluded that (I)NGO’s should focus on the multileveled and the unconnected character of these communities and enhance frugal innovation, capacity and social capital. In times of resilience, (I)NGO’s can take on three roles. What these roles can be, you can read in his Powerpoint via this link.

After Jan’s presentation, Beatrice Hati, who is a researcher and urban planner at the Kenyan office of CFIA, began her presentation about how local initiatives responded to crises in Nairobi’s informal settlements. She outlined that more than half of the urban residents in Nairobi live in informal settlements, causing that they are excluded by state response and that they evolved a high level of self-organisation into community-based organisations. The CBOs playground is functionally and practically different from other development actors, which enables them to effectively respond to local challenges. CBO’s react to disturbances on different scales, as spatial, temporal and thematic scales. So can small scale actions, as turning a dumping site into a playground, make a big impact on the community as it crosses socio-economic, physical and environmental spheres. By creating safe spaces by external resources, when they are appropriated, localised and properly managed, they can significantly boost the growth of local initiatives.

As Beatrice emphasised, it is important that there is a collaboration with local communities and (non-) governmental institutions, because cities only can be healthy, livable and resilient when they are created by everyone. How you can do that as (I)NGO, you can read in here.

After the presentations, two themes were discussed. The first group discussed how you can give as (I)NGO immediate support to frugal initiatives during crises, such as covid-19. The second group discussed the lessons learned that can be used for supporting community initiatives towards long term improvements in the resilience of formal and informal communities.

Read more about Fransen and Hati's work

Visual by Asis Percales via TheGreats.co 

Presentation Jan Fransen (6.38 MB)
Presentation Beatrice Hati (3.27 MB)